labor spiez

The Spiez Laboratory in Switzerland
The last 24 hours of the Novichok saga has seen a new twist - European media are widely reporting that two Russian spies were caught attempting to either hack or break into the Spiez laboratory in Switzerland that was examining samples from the Salisbury poisoning. While this announcement of an event that happened months ago is clearly designed to bolster the British government's account, in reality it does the opposite.

The Spiez Laboratory Story

Beginning with Dutch and Swiss media on Thursday night, reports claim that Dutch military intelligence (working with other intelligence agencies including British) detained two men at The Hague in late March, around four weeks after the Skripals were poisoned. They were suspected to be GRU agents and reportedly had equipment to help them break into the lab, which was examining samples from both Salisbury and from suspected chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The two men - who have not been named or identified in any way - were sent back to Russia so none of this will ever be placed before a court or properly examined. The news reports of the last 36 hours are contradictory on the question of whether this was an attempted cyber-attack (i.e. hacking into the lab's computer system) or a physical break-in.

Most of the reports say this was a hacking attempt, echoing other reports from late July saying that Russian hackers were either trying to or had successfully hacked the Swiss lab.

Novichok or BZ?

Where this gets strange is that after the arrests in March, the Russian government claimed that a report from the Swiss lab identified the poison as BZ, rather than Novichok. So our timeline becomes:
  • March 4th: Skripals are poisoned.
  • March 26th: Two suspected GRU agents arrested trying to break into or hack the Spiez lab.
  • April 14th: Lavrov claims it was BZ rather than Novichok.
  • July 31st: New reports of Russian agents trying to hack the Spiez lab.
  • September 14th: First news reports of March 26th arrests and deportations.
At the time of Lavrov's claim about BZ I wondered why, if they genuinely had a copy of reports from the Spiez lab, RT didn't publish them. He attributed the BZ claim to a report or reports from the lab, but these were never seen at the time. This new story seems to add weight to the BZ claim, as it provides an explanation for how the Russian government knew this information back in April.

On the flipside we have the question of why wasn't this reported at the time? 'Russian intelligence tries to hack lab examining Skripal samples' would have been a potent headline back in late March/early April, and would have helped bolster the official British government narrative. Instead they waited until months later to announce the news, in the midst of a disinformation war between the British and Russian governments. While they probably intended for this to support the British government version, given the timeline above it appears to do the opposite by making the BZ claim more credible.

This is either the stupidest disinformation war in years or both sides know a lot more than they're letting on but can't say anything without incriminating themselves.